Various Effects of Heroin on the Body

Do you feel that your behaviour is getting out of control because of the effects of heroin on the body? It’s not easy to admit that you’ve become addicted to heroin. No one wants to admit that a drug has taken control of their life. But the first step to recovery and breaking free from the addiction is by admitting that there is an existing problem. 

If you are reading this because you want to know more about the effects of heroin on the body, then you’re on the right track. Read along so you can inform yourself not just of the effects of this drug but also what your options are when it comes to the treatments available. 

Heroin is among the top illegal drugs that are most commonly abused in North America. It is under the opiate family and is made from morphine and opium poppy plants. At present, addiction to heroin has become a very widespread disease that causes so many deaths every year. 

In this post, we will be looking deeper into the various effects of heroin on the body. If you are a heroin user, hopefully, this information may provide you with more understanding of what heroin addiction can do to your health and well-being. 

Heroin addiction gets worse every year. Many heroin users resort to this drug because they want to feed their addiction to prescription painkiller meds. Within the past years, as much as 80% of individuals who use heroin said that they turned to the drug because of their addiction to prescription opioids. 

That is why the use of prescription opioids should be done in a very careful manner. This is because one of the dangerous risks of it is turning to heroin abuse. It could lead to addiction and you may suffer the other effects of heroin on the body. 

If you or someone you know is having problems with heroin addiction, then it is vital that professional help is sought immediately. This post also hopes to provide a better understanding of how it works, heroin effects, risks of overdose, as well as how addiction to heroin can be treated successfully. 

Understanding What Heroin Is

What is Heroin? This is obviously the first question to ask if you want to gain a deeper understanding of what this drug is. Heroin is known by many names including dope and smack. This drug appears as a brown or white powder. 

There is also a variety that comes as a sticky substance known as black tar heroin. Users of this drug ingest it through snorting, smoking, or injecting it into the vein, into their muscle, or under their skin. The effects of heroin on the body are all harmful regardless of the manner of consumption.

As an opiate, it is naturally derived from the seed pods of the opium poppy plant. Users of heroin experience a certain kind of high which is very pleasurable and addictive. While heroin may give this feeling of elation, there are many long-term effects of heroin use that can be very harmful and dangerous to the body. Overdose from heroin use can cause serious consequences, even death. 

Even if heroin is created from morphine, the drug reverts to morphine once it gets to the brain. When it binds with opioid receptors, the parts of your brain that are responsible for mood and pleasure become triggered. These areas include your brain stem; the one that controls vital automatic functions of your body such as arousal, breathing, and blood pressure. 

Heroin is a drug that is very potent. Users of heroin can get high almost immediately after ingesting the drug. There has been a steady increase in the availability of heroin that it has become too easy to obtain. Many individuals from all walks of life and various backgrounds become addicted to heroin. 

The gateway drugs to using heroin are actually prescription medications for pain. If you have been given a prescription for narcotic medication, then know that you may be at risk of using heroin and getting addicted to it. Addiction to opioids has become so rampant in Canada and other countries that the number of people dying from opioid overdose daily is continually increasing. 

Because prescription opiates are naturally addictive, individuals who can no longer afford the medications resort to using heroin. This is because heroin is more available, it is more affordable, and they get a better and distinct high from it. 

What Heroin Looks Like

A part of understanding what heroin is included knowing how it looks like. If you suspect that your loved one is using this drug, then you ought to know its appearance so you can confirm if they are using heroin. Usually, heroin is in the form of a powder that is either brown or white. 

The colour of heroin may differ depending on the geographic location from which it is sourced. For example, in North America, heroin typically ranges from white to off-white powder. The colour of the drug also tells how pure it is. The whiter the powder is, then the purer it is. Heroin that is white is also more potent compared to the brown or off-white counterpart because those carry more impurities. 

Also, heroin may come as a solid and sticky black substance. This is known as sticky tar or black tar. When you touch this heroin variety, it is hard. This type of heroin has some slight and pungent smell like that when you smell the vinegar. The purest heroin powder does not have any odour. When black tar or brown heroin is smoked, the vinegar-like smell becomes stronger. 

It’s hard to find pure heroin because it is usually mixed with other substances and drugs. Most drug dealers do this so that they can make more profit. Doing this to pure heroin dilutes it but it doesn’t make it less dangerous. In fact, such drug combinations are hazardous because of the many effects of heroin on the body plus the different substances that have been mixed with it. 

Some of the substances and drugs that are commonly mixed with heroin are fentanyl, white sugar, flour, caffeine, talcum powder, rat poison, laundry detergent, and baking soda. As you can imagine, some of these substances are just outright dangerous like laundry detergent and rat poison. But this does not mean that the other substances are safer because those can still put the people using the drug at risk of hazardous side effects. 

An example here is heroin mixed with caffeine can mask the signs of a drug overdose. People who are using the drug will think that they need more of it. When they do, they may suffer from brain damage. They may even die because of it. 

People who use this drug know that heroin is so much more affordable compared to prescription opiates. This makes heroin a drug that is in demand. As a consequence, the risk of overdosing and death has also increased. This is because the drug dealers are trying to meet the high demand by mixing the drug with other dangerous substances. 

Why Heroin is Addictive

Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs around. There’s a lot of harmful effects of heroin on the body. If you are having problems with your heroin addiction, don’t lose hope because recovery from the addiction is still possible. What you have to understand that while it’s possible to recover from heroin addiction, it won’t be an easy process. That is why you have to prepare yourself for it and be committed to your goal of getting rid of the habit. 

Many heroin users have tried beating their addiction but have experienced relapse and returned to their old ways after being sober for some time. What makes recovery from heroin addiction so difficult? Let’s try to understand why heroin is so addictive and different heroin effects on the brain. 

Studies have stated that heroin can hijack the user’s brain and rewire it. When this happens, the brain begins to think that the drug is a necessary chemical. A brain that has become addicted to heroin is only focused on getting high regardless of the costs or consequences. That’s why heroin addicts can do extreme things just to get their fix. 

This drug also works in a similar manner to that of other opioids. It can increase the dopamine level that is being released to the user’s limbic reward system. This system is a part of our brain which is responsible for experiencing pleasure. It also drives all of the activities that give us intense pleasure like drinking, eating, and sex. 

When an individual uses heroin though, what the drug does is that it begins to take over the limbic reward system. This means that large volumes of dopamine are released, causing the high that the heroin user feels. After this experience, the heroin addict feels that the euphoria is slowly going away. This leads them to seek out heroin over and over for that high. Repeated use of this drug will eventually create tolerance and dependence on it, contributing to addiction to heroin. 

Heroin detox and withdrawal is a very challenging process. If it is not done properly and with sufficient guidance, it can be harmful to the user’s body. The process of heroin withdrawal can be very difficult for drug users who try quitting the habit by themselves. 

It’s because the drug has already affected the areas of their brain controlling planning, organization, and judgment. The drug also hijacks the motivational and memory systems of the brain. This causes the relentless pursuit of heroin to achieve that high no matter what the cost may be. 

Drug Rehabilitation vs. Drug Detox

There are so many challenges that you should be ready for if you want to quit heroin abuse. But don’t let those challenges intimidate you or stop you from working your way to sobriety. In this section, let’s discuss further some of the available treatments for heroin addiction. We will take a look at drug rehabilitation vs. drug detox. 

Rehab and detox are not one and the same. With detox, it is the process of stopping the drug use so that the body can get rid of the heroin in it. Detox is an important step when it comes to drug rehabilitation. But it is not enough to successfully quit their heroin use. The chances of relapse or going back to using heroin are high. 

What you should remember is that treatment for heroin addiction involves many phases. For example, you have to go through detox first, and then you may need medications to help with the withdrawal symptoms. To provide you with support and give you opportunities to learn coping skills, talk therapy is also an important component in drug rehabilitation. 

This is why heroin detox alone is not enough if you want to stop the habit of using drugs. You need the right set of treatments as well as a good support group to help you in your recovery from heroin addiction. When you do, there are more chances for a successful recovery and maintaining sobriety won’t be very difficult. It will still be challenging but knowing that you have a great support system will enable you to move forward and not go back to using drugs. 

Short-term Effects of Heroin

Heroin abuse causes so many effects on the body. Some of these effects are short-term while others are long-term effects. When the drug enters a user’s brain, it becomes converted into morphine. When this happens, it binds immediately with opioid receptors. 

Individuals who use this drug feel a rush or a surge of intense pleasure. The rush that they feel may vary; it can be more intense if they have taken high doses of heroin. The intensity of the high also depends on how fast heroin enters the user’s brain. So, this means that the manner in how the drug was ingested is also a factor in the kind of high that the user feels. 

With heroin use, the high that is felt is also accompanied by other effects such as the dry mouth and becoming flushed. The extremities may also feel heavier than usual. Some of the other short-term effects of heroin include severe itching, vomiting, and nausea. 

When the initial effects of heroin use begin to wind down, the user will feel drowsy for the next hours. This means that his or her mental function is also clouded and the heart functions decrease. Breathing slows down as well which could be dangerous. These effects have the potential to be life-threatening as it can lead to the person becoming comatose and suffer brain damage that could be permanent. 

Long-term Effects of Heroin

When heroin is used repeatedly, there will be significant changes to the physiology and physical structure of the brain of the user. This creates long-term abnormalities in the hormonal and neuronal systems, and they may not be reversed anymore. 

Many studies state that the white matter of the brain will eventually deteriorate because of repeated use of the drug. This can affect a person’s abilities for decision making and the capacity to regulate their behaviour. They will even find it difficult to respond to stressful events and situations. 

Heroin can also create physical dependence and tolerance. Tolerance happens when an individual needs more of the drug just to get the same kind of effect or high. As for physical dependence, the user’s body begins to adapt to the drug being in the system. When the person stops using the drug abruptly then he or she will experience withdrawal symptoms. 

Withdrawal can happen within just a few hours from the last intake of the drug. Some of the heroin withdrawal symptoms include being restless, bone and muscle pain, cold flashes, goosebumps, vomiting, diarrhea, and insomnia. 

Most of the major symptoms of heroin withdrawal may be felt the most within the next two days after the last heroin ingestion. It will, later on, subside after a week or so. However, it is possible for some individuals trying to recover from heroin addiction to still experience withdrawal symptoms even after months of staying clean. 

When the drug is used repeatedly, it can result in what is called heroin use disorder. This is a disease that is chroming and relapsing. It is beyond being physically dependent on the drug. With this disorder, the individual has drug-seeking behaviours that are uncontrollable. They will find ways to get their fix no matter what the consequences may be. 

Heroin is a drug that is extremely addictive and it doesn’t matter how a user ingests it. All ways of heroin ingestion are dangerous and hazardous to the body. Nevertheless, the manner with which heroin is consumed determines how fast the person develops heroin use disorder. When the individual develops the disorder, then using and seeking the drug will become the primary and singular purpose that they have in their life. 

Heroin Effects on the Brain

Some of the more immediate effects after ingesting heroin are pleasure and relief from pain. Heroin can have significant effects on areas of the brain controlling thoughts, heart rate, and breathing. Using the drug repeatedly develops dependence and addiction to heroin. 

In order to gain an understanding of how the drug affects the user’s brain, what should be first understood is how our brain functions. With millions of cells, our brain reacts to the different chemicals in our bodies. This includes those that we ingest or consume. Such reactions can have an impact on how the body functions. 

The brain cells that react to various chemicals are what we call receptors. Some of these receptors react only to particular chemicals. In this case, receptors reacting to heroin are what we call opioid receptors. These receptors in our brain can have an effect on the way with which we feel stress, anxiety, depression, pleasure, and pain. Along with these, the receptors also have an impact on our sleep, breathing, and appetite. 

Our brain can naturally produce chemicals like endorphins that link to the opioid receptors. The endorphins are chemicals that aids in reducing how we feel pain as well as help in regulating bodily functions. 

When a heroin user snorts, injects or smokes heroin, it enters the bloodstream rapidly and then goes into the brain. Once the drug is inside the brain, heroin then begins to attach to the opioid receptors. After that, it becomes converted into morphine and 6-MAM which is another chemical. 

Short-term Effects of Heroin on the Brain

Heroin’s immediate effects happen when it attaches to the brain’s opioid receptors. When this happens, the user feels the euphoria from the initial high. The time it takes for the conversion of heroin into 6-MAM and morphine is about twenty minutes. Many heroin users say that the high that they get from the drug only lasts for about five to fifteen minutes. 

The two chemicals, 6-MAM and morphine, can stay in the user’s brain for a longer time. They continue to be attached to the opioid receptors for a number of hours. These chemicals can still cause a high but it will be milder than the initial one that the user gets in the first few minutes after ingesting heroin. 

Pain Relief and Pleasure from Heroin

We feel pleasure from so many things such as when we hug someone we love or we eat food that we like. During such times, endorphins are released and they link to the opioid receptors of our brain. In the case of heroin use though, the opioid receptors become overwhelmed by the drug. This causes a huge surge of pleasure. Users say that whenever they ingest the drug, they feel extremely relaxed and happy. 

Our brain’s opioid receptors do more than just affect how we feel happiness. The drug can also aid in giving relief from feelings of anxiety, depression, and pain. Heroin can have the same effect as that of prescription opioids. When high opioid doses are attached to the receptors, the brain won’t be able to make you feel pain or discomfort. 

While this effect of heroin may sound positive, this does not mean that it is alright to take the drug. The risks associated with it are just not worth it. Our opioid receptors are in control of vital life functions, and taking heroin can disrupt very important processes that keep us alive and well. Flooding the brain with heroin will make the opioid receptors dysfunctional. 

Brain Damage from Heroin Abuse

Among the most common causes of brain damage from using heroin happens when it causes the user’s breathing to slow down at a very dangerous rate. Using the drug can prevent the brain from getting sufficient oxygen. 

And as we know, without the right amount of oxygen, the brain cells begin to die. When this happens, then the individual dies as well. Many heroin users die tragically because of a heroin overdose when they just stop breathing altogether. 

There are still some users who survive an overdose of heroin but there may be damage to the brain already. Brain damage because of a heroin overdose is determined by the length of time that the person did not have sufficient oxygen. 

There are some individuals who survived and were able to recover fully because the brain cells were not deprived of oxygen for a long time and did not die. Nevertheless, most cases of overdose cause significant brain damage that the way the brain works has been altered. Assistance or life support may become necessary for the rest of their remaining years. 

Long-term Effects of Heroin on the Brain

Our brain is a powerful organ. It can remember situations and events wherein we experienced a pleasure. When we have such memories, it motivates us subconsciously to seek out that pleasure. This is what we know as cravings. We crave for things that give us happiness. 

With heroin, the reward and pleasure system of our brain becomes disrupted when the opioid receptors become overwhelmed. This changes the ways in which the brain is supposed to function. How the individual can experience emotions as happiness becomes altered. Also, such changes cause heroin users to seek more of the drug. This is true even if heroin use is already causing them serious consequences. 

Heroin Use and Cravings

Heroin use can disrupt the brain’s reward system. Opioid receptors are overwhelmed by the drug that so much pleasure is felt by the user. The brain of a heroin addict will notice that the drug makes them feel great and makes them remember the times when the drug use caused that pleasure. Cravings happen because the brain learns that heroin causes happiness. 

Heroin Use, Drug Tolerance and Dependence

Using heroin repeatedly causes the brain’s opioid receptors to adapt. Over time, they become less responsive to the drug. When this point has been reached, then drug tolerance happens. Heroin users who have developed a high tolerance to the drug won’t be able to feel the same intensity of pleasure as when they first used it. 

Since the opioid receptors are no longer as sensitive to the effects of heroin as before, users take higher doses of the drug so that they can achieve the same kind of high. Continued use of heroin will cause the opioid receptors to adapt and the tolerance to the drug increases continually as well. 

As the opioid receptors of the brain adapt to the drug, they respond less to it. Apart from that, other changes also happen. This causes the user’s brain to become more reliant on heroin so that it can function normally. This is what is known as dependence. 

If the heroin user cannot ingest the drug, then the opioid receptors will function abnormally. When the brain has this abnormal activity, it can cause withdrawal symptoms which cause a lot of discomfort to the individual. 

Heroin Addiction

Every time a drug user ingests heroin, the changes in the reward system of the brain becomes reinforced. This causes intense cravings for the drug. The opioid receptors continually adapt to their exposure to heroin and make the user more dependent on it as the drug use goes on. 

While there are many factors to be considered such as environmental and genetic factors, heroin users may develop the disease which is called heroin addiction. Heroin use can cause changes to parts of their brain that work on the pleasure, motivation, and self-control. Often, heroin addicts use the drug because they do not want to experience heroin withdrawal symptoms. 

If there is no treatment for drug use, heroin addicts won’t be able to quit using the drug. Alone, they will be left incapable of changing the long-term effects of heroin caused. Professional help is needed to successfully combat heroin addiction. 

Heroin detox and rehabilitation is an important step in helping the brain to recover from the changes that took place because of drug dependence. When the heroin user has already completed detox as well as overcame the withdrawal symptoms, then therapy and counselling are the next steps. These ensure that they will be given the opportunity to learn how to be able to control their cravings for the drug as well as make healthier decisions for themselves. 

Heroin Addiction Treatments

There are several treatments available for people who have become addicted to heroin. The treatments include both pharmacological and behavioural approaches. These two aids in restoring some level of normalcy when it comes to the way that the brain functions as well as with the individual’s behaviour. 

Treatments for heroin addiction can greatly help recovering addicts to get their life back. They get a chance to find work and lessen the risk of criminal behaviour and being exposed to diseases like HIV. However, even if pharmacological and behavioural treatments truly help recovering addicts kick the bad habit of drug use, studies have shown that a combination of these treatments is more effective as compared to using just one. 

Pharmacological Treatments for Heroin Addiction

Studies have established that medications or pharmacological treatment for heroin addiction significantly increases the chances of the recovering addict to stay in treatment as well as commit themselves to decrease their drug use. Also, medications for heroin addiction also lessen the risks of criminal activity and the transmission of infectious diseases. 

When heroin addicts first quit, they will experience withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and pain. These withdrawal symptoms can range from mild discomfort to severe ones. The meds for heroin addiction can help in this stage of detoxification because they can help with the craving as well as other symptoms that can push a recovering addict to relapse and return to drug use. 

The meds that have been developed in order to treat heroin addiction work in a similar fashion when it comes to how it affects those opioid receptors. However, it is much safer and there are fewer harmful behaviours that will be produced because of it. 

There are three kinds of medications for heroin addiction. They are agonists, partial agonists, and antagonists. Whichever medication will be prescribed to the individual would have to depend on his or her particular needs as well as other factors that need to be considered. Here are some of the more common medications for heroin addiction. 

  • Methadone – This drug is an agonist but a slow-acting one. It is ingested orally so it reaches the brain much slower compared to how heroin is consumed. This manner of administration dampens the high that happens when other methods are used. It also helps in preventing symptoms of withdrawal. Addiction treatment specialists have been using methadone since the 1960s as a treatment option for those with heroin addiction. It is an excellent choice for people who don’t seem to respond well when taking other meds. 
  • Buprenorphine – This medication is an example of a partial agonist. It helps in relieving cravings for heroin without giving the individual that high or any other hazardous side effects. Like methadone, buprenorphine is also ingested orally so that it won’t produce a high.  If buprenorphine were to be injected, then it will induce symptoms of withdrawal. This can be averted for as long as the drug is taken orally as instructed by the physician. 
  • Naltrexone – This is an antagonist and it blocks the opioids. It is neither sedating nor addictive. There’s also no risk of developing physical dependence. Nevertheless, some recovering addicts still find it challenging to comply with treatment. As a result, the effectiveness of this medication has been limited. 

Behavioural Therapies for Heroin Addiction

There are a number of behavioural therapies for heroin addiction that recovering addicts can choose from. The therapies may be conducted in residential or outpatient settings. These approaches, including cognitive-behavioural therapy as well as contingency management, have been effective when it comes to treating heroin addiction. They are more effective when combined with medications though. 

With contingency management, a system that is voucher-based is used. How this works is that the recovering addict can earn points from making sure that their drug test results turn out negative. They can then use their vouchers to get items that can help them live healthier lives. 

As for cognitive-behavioural therapy, it is designed to change the way the recovering addict behaves in relation to his or her drug use. Also, individuals are given the chance to learn skills on how they can better cope when they are in a stressful situation. 

These two types of behavioural therapies are just examples of the options that recovering addicts have for this kind of treatment. It is important that the person who wants to recover from heroin addiction be given the right treatment by matching his or her needs to the treatment that will be most helpful.

Some of the other behavioural treatments include family behaviour therapy which involves the individual’s family and close loved ones.  The point of the therapy is to engage the significant people in the person’s life by encouraging them to apply the many behavioural strategies that they learn from the therapy sessions. An example here is improving their home environment so that it will encourage their recovering loved one to lead a healthier life. 

Each therapy session provides the opportunity for the recovering addict and his or her family to review their goals and whether those have been met. The participants of the therapy session get to participate in the planning, which interventions to apply, and the treatment options that can be further explored. 

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article was able to provide you with enough information about heroin use, drug addiction, the effects of heroin on the body, and the treatments available to combat the addiction. Knowing as much as you can about the drug is the first important step that you need to take on your road to recovery so that you will become more aware of how heroin use affects your life and the life of your loved ones. 

Once you are ready for the next step which is seeking professional help, you may be surprised that there will be so many people who will be more than happy to help you and give you support all throughout your recovery process. This includes your family, friends, colleagues, doctors, and fellow individuals who are recovering from addiction. 

Heroin addiction recovery is not going to be an easy road to take but it will be worth your while. Don’t think that your life is hopeless and there’s nothing left for you to live for. There are so many people who want to see you bounce back and become a productive and happy individual again. If they see that glimmer of hope in you, then you should also believe in yourself that you can make things happen. 

The first step to take is admitting that there is an existing problem. It’s hard to think that you’ve become addicted to drugs like heroin but once you recognize this, then you’ll know what kind of help you should look for. The treatments may vary from person to person. Don’t be daunted by it because you and your doctor and healthcare professionals will help you in looking for the right treatment combinations that will work best for you. Break free from heroin addiction today and seek professional help.